Tuesday, March 15th

Dignity, it’s History and Meaning, Part I - Prof. Michael Rosen

Following a “Socratic” approach towards progress of thought, Michael Rosen presented a case against human dignity, as the majority of the fellows shared the belief that “human dignity” was an important concept and / or provided the foundation for human rights. Michael Rosen raised seven objections. (1) Human dignity is humbug. (2) Human dignity relies on a notion of universality that renders the concept meaningless. (3) Human dignity relies on an “inner transcendental kernel” while there is no such kernel. (4) If there were an “inner transcendental kernel”, it would not provide guide for conduct as – by definition – human dignity cannot be destroyed whatever is done to the individual. (5) Human dignity serves as a Trojan horse for inequality. (6) Human dignity serves as a Trojan horse for attacks on liberty and autonomy. (7) Human dignity implies a license for undermining democracy. However, in his concluding remarks, Michael Rosen conceded that the “right to be treated with respect” might, in some circumstances, indeed provide some guidance for human conduct.

Dignity, it’s History and Meaning, Part II - Prof. Michael Rosen

In the afternoon session, Michael Rosen shared his thoughts on a “politics of dignity”. Arguing against the conception of politics proposed by John Rawls (requiring just institutions, but no virtuous individuals) and Marxism (requiring total dedication to the cause as an externally given good), Michael Rosen stressed that a whole range of emotions was an intrinsic (yet neglected) part of politics. The “politics of dignity” was, Michael Rosen contended, a case in point. When Martin Luther King masterminded and orchestrated the Montgomery bus boycott, “dignity” played a crucial role. According to Michael Rosen, the bus boycott was not just about inequality in material terms, but also about rejecting disrespect (and claiming dignity) on a symbolic level through collective action that placed a high burden on those who participated in the boycott and, hence, required unbroken solidarity. The slogan was “We rather walk the streets in dignity than ride the bus in humiliation”. The Montgomery bus boycott draws, so Michael Rosen, the attention to the link between dignity and demeanour.